Lawmakers want more scrutiny of combatant commanders' requests for additional forces

By Tony Bertuca / April 5, 2021 at 1:50 PM

More than a dozen House lawmakers say U.S. combatant commanders should accept an "appropriate amount of risk" and cease making supplemental forces requests that are "driving readiness costs to unsustainable levels" and burning through servicemembers at "breakneck paces."

In a letter sent today to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, the lawmakers, led by Reps. Seth Moulton (D-MA) and Rob Wittman (R-VA), say the current process by which combatant commanders seek additional forces needs increased scrutiny.

"Combatant commands have few incentives to be frugal in their force requests, leading to an overtaxing and overworking of the services in an attempt to fulfill combatant commands' demands when the [defense secretary] approves an expansive number of" requests for forces, the lawmakers write. "The 'tyranny of the now' is wearing out man and machine at too high a rate to ensure success both now and later."

The Pentagon's desire to shift to "great powers competition" in the National Defense Strategy risks being "undermined by the combatant commands' failure, unwillingness, or inability to make do with their approved" force levels, according to the lawmakers.

The Pentagon is currently running a Global Force Posture review intended to inform future decisions about force levels. A separate Defense Department budgetary review evaluating resources spent on U.S. Central Command also seeks options for increasing investments to counter China in the Indo-Pacific region.

Austin and Hicks have called China the Pentagon's "pacing challenge" and President Biden has said he "can't picture" U.S. troops in Afghanistan next year.

The lawmakers, meanwhile, said, "it is imperative that the combatant commands accept and share the appropriate amount of risk required to balance their needs against the [service] chiefs' requirement to recruit, train and modernize the services in the long term."

The concern over force levels also comes as the White House is preparing to release what is expected to be a flat defense budget.

In their letter, the lawmakers have requested detailed information on DOD's process for allocating additional forces to combatant commanders.